Review by Vegita

"Exclamation Point"

Ed Boon, the co-creator of Mortal Kombat and current head of the franchise, is the Jerry Bruckheimer of video games. And I despise him for it.

Both men's care towards their respective general audiences is less for their products' level of completeness, more for the gloss and shine. They don't create their games for genre fans to enjoy, nor do they try to appease critics with their releases. They are there to give a broad group of people a quick thrill, all the while making a buck on the project. They focus on the look of the production rather than the logistics behind it, the visual appeal rather than the depth. Critics be damned, they shoot for what the audience wants. "Which audience do you shoot for?", that's the question, and usually the answer is "Who cares, as long as it's as large as possible!"

Mortal Kombat: Deception is yet another continuation of the MK franchise, utilizing characters from games past and transplanting them into a three-dimensional battleground. Following up on Deadly Alliance, Boon has added new and different characters, progressed the plotline, and expanded the extras of the game so that you'll have more to do than just the actual "k"ombat. Each character has two different fighting styles they can switch between - in addition to a weapon of choice - giving them three different stances they can cycle through, creating a variety of combos while handling someone else's "k"ombative strategies. You can block attacks with the use of a button, throw people (even if blocking, so as to deter from excessive turtling), and use normal and special moves to pound the dickens out of one another. The basics seem to be there in full force, yes?

...Well, no. Here we find Issue Number One of the game - Boon gave no heed to the notion that the previous games' fighting engine was "broken". Characters had infinites that were pathetically easy to set up and execute: Matches could be boiled down to picking a certain character, working into a certain attack, then performing that infinite until you'd won. Your average fighting game aficionado would cry foul at this point, because there was practically no strategy or depth involved; if you wanted some semblance of structured competition, you had to ban certain characters, stages, or moves entirely just to keep things in check. It became rather ludicrous in design because the players themselves were doing something that the programmers should have done from the start: Balancing the game so that it is playable on multiple levels.

So when Boon decided to make MK:D, did he focus on fixing these game-breaking flaws? Was he thinking of creative ways to tweak the "k"ombat engine so that fans could enjoy new offensive facets of their favored fighters? Nope! Boon knew that one of the longstanding gimmicks of his series was that of the "Fatality", and decided to increase just how many deaths-per-character there were. Not only did everyone gain a new fatality (for a grand total of two now), but you could also commit hara-kiri before your opponent could rend you, self-inflicting a grisly death by your own morbid means.

Furthermore, Boon (likely) figured that the inclusion of a number of secondary features would help divert attention from MK:D's lack of any serious improvement. Take Puzzle Kombat, for example: A Tetris-like game where your super-deformed kombattants duel it out beneath the dropping blocks (and a direct rip-off of Capcom's "Puzzle Fighter"). Or how about Chess Kombat, the idea riffing on the style of play found in "Archon", instead using MK characters in lieu of traditional chess pieces? These were provided to give secondary and tertiary MK-related activities, more fun-fun-fun to whittle away the hours. Not enough? Well, how about Konquest Mode, an RPG-like mini-game that was added as a way to bring back old Kombattants (although these prior-game character additions are ineligible for current-game "k"ombat participation) and make the game feel larger, offering up an "innovative" (see: repetitive and boring) way to unlock stages, characters, and costumes.

...And honestly, it works. The "k"ombat itself is still playable, although any fighter worth their salt will find how repetitive and broken it is fairly quickly. A little experimentation will yield disturbingly easy infinites or extended combos, and your average layman will no doubt notice the ease of tossing his opponent into one of the commonplace, fatality-inducing hotspots. This is regardless of health, mind you, meaning that a well-fought match can suddenly become a moot point because a lucky shot propelled you into the giant meat grinder on the side of the screen. Jockeying for position interspliced with avoiding a set-up for an infinite doesn't exactly sound like a "fair and balanced" style of gameplay now, does it? It puts the focus more on the flashy killing of one another rather than the actual core fighting system, which (in my opinion) is a cop-out on the programmers' part.

If one were to question Ed about the validity of the gameplay, I'm fairly certain that he'd remark: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it!" This is a large problem in my eyes. Not his, though, which may serve to be a larger problem unto itself.

Boon, knowing that the big clincher to his game is its brutal nature (fatalities specifically), focused more on adding stage fatalities and ways for the characters to kill one another (and themselves) rather than doing what any self-respecting company would do: playtest the game for glitches and gamebreaking infinites. This, of course, is a bit obvious - why let people play the game and doubtlessly see the big surprise(s) before release? Well, that would kill possible sales and quell further interest, no doubt. So instead he used media outlets to tease fans and retailers, showcasing the updated graphics and different fighting styles each character incorporates as well as offering a brief view of one of the gruesome factors that had enticed fans in the first place. Show off the stages and how nice they look, display the characters and their fluid movement, and then cap the evening with a fatality - aw heck, make it two...we have plenty to spare, and they'll get the full load when they buy the game.

Mortal Kombat: Deception shipped over one million units to retailers, making it the fastest-selling Midway game to date. The game is flashy, glossy, and hits its target audience with just the right number of surprises to entertain. It lacks depth, and even its creativity is in serious doubt...but Boon didn't care about those lofty goals. His focus was to play off of the success of his previous 3D fighting MK games, changing just enough to remain "new" while holding to the same formula that has brought him fame and fortune (bolded for a reason) throughout the years. Further illustrating this point, he done went and clean ripped off two other video game ideas (Puzzle Fighter and Archon) and imbued them with MK related themes, showing an even further degradation of the term "creativity". If he'd been seeking to make a quality fighting game, then he clearly failed; however, this was never his focus -- in fact, his "successes" in the past (with competitive gamers, i.e. MK 2/3/Trilogy) came entirely by accident.

MK:D sports a flawed gameplay that ruins most matches with its simple infinites and one-hit-kills, and you can fault Ed for keeping the franchise the near-unplayable mess that it is. Mr. Boon doesn't want to make a quality piece of video gaming, he is content to produce a bland moneymaker that appeases many while truly entertaining few. Thus, how can I fault a businessman for working his magic on video games and not being an artist? Should we have expected anything more from him? It almost seems unfair to rate a game based off of my own expectations when the creator is shooting for an entirely different level of contention amongst his peers and fans.

...almost.

Ed Boon is the Jerry Bruckheimer of video games, and I despise him for it.


Reviewer's Score: 4/10 | Originally Posted: 11/08/04, Updated 02/10/05


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